If you wake up in the morning, it is a good day – Heather Morris.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz is another book that has been collecting dust on my TBR pile since Christmas. Every time I go to choose one of my own books, another book is sent for review and so it gets shoved to the bottom of the pile like the rest of my beloved books I already own. Now, I am making the conscious effort to read it this week (whilst sunning it up in Tenerife) because of all I saw in The Jewish Quarter in Amsterdam during my city break there.
Amsterdam is one of those cities that has so much to offer. Most UK goers in their twenties opt to go for recreational reasons as well as a bit of a culture hit, wanting to get as much out of the city as possible. I’ve already written about sex culture the in the city, but now I will share a more sombre part of the capital of The Netherlands.
Just a few tram stops away from the Dam (on number 14), you will find yourself in the Jewish Cultural Quarter where the oldest synagogue in Europe remains: The Portuguese Synagogue. This is the oldest Jewish neighbourhood in Amsterdam, where Jews migrated to hundreds of years ago, fleeing from Spain to Portugal during the Spanish Revolution, finally travelling further to Amsterdam where they made it their home. So, even though it is called the Portuguese Synagogue, originally these Jews descended from Spanish heritage which just blows my mind. They had their own revolt against their home country, believing their heritage should begin in Portugal, where they were welcomed and safe. There is so much history in the streets of the Jewish Quarter, and the buildings, memorials and museums connect and work together in order to reflect the lives of the Jews before the war, before their murders and evaporation, before the mass genocide that we remember today. The Holocaust.
For just 17 euros, you have access to four of the main points of attraction in this area: the Portuguese Synagogue, the Jewish Historical Museum, the National Holocaust Memorial and the National Holocaust Museum in Development (to be a full museum dedicated to the victims in 2021). This ticket is valid for an entire month, so there is plenty of time to visit and explore all these fascinating places, as well as educate yourself on the history of truth. No propaganda, just stories from the living victims and the families of those who never made it out alive. Make sure you go on your first day of exploring in order to get the most out of your ticket!
The Portuguese Synagogue is beautifully simple. It is a stark contrast to any cathedral or church I have ever visited, and to be honest, it was a little bit of a shock to not see intricate architecture, beautiful glass windows depicting stories of the past (or creations of a man – whichever you believe). I had to remind myself that this is not Christianity, who show off their money just a tad, but of a different religion entirely. The simplicity is incredible, and it still has you in awe of its magnificence. The fact that it has survived for centuries, since 1665, is amazing.
However, it was my visit to the National Holocaust Memorial, and Museum in Development, that made my fingers itch to pick up The Tattooist of Auschwitz. There are articles and physical pieces of history that belonged to everyday people who died in the Holocaust. For example, a chain and ring from a young woman who left it with her neighbour for when she returned. She never did return. There is a violin that belonged to a child, children’s books and drawings created for a family member’s birthday, and so many more encased in glass boxes with a piece of history that told their story. I think that that is what is important. These Jews have their names in memoriam. Their stories are valid, a piece of history that people must keep sharing, because these people lived their lives in peace, had loved ones that they loved and cared for, including children and parents. Babies were murdered in cold blood. Children, mothers and fathers. For what? For having a different religion? For worshipping their God? For having different beliefs? In the Museum, there is an original star that Jews had to wear from dawn until dusk. It is an icon of history, and it means so much to the Jewish community.
Videos and photographs adorn a dark room in the National Holocaust Museum in Development. Inside, a video plays on a loop: it is the timeline of World War II and the Holocaust, as well as the Liberation. It is completely surreal. You see black and white images of moving trains that are full to the brim of Jews being taken to an unknown destination, in most cases their deaths. 104,000 Jews in the Netherlands were wiped out during the war. Each and every single name is written digitally in memoriam at the National Holocaust Memorial, as they should be. There is so much death in that room, but there is also sparks of happiness in the Museum just across the road. Alongside the horrific nature of the truth are photos of those who survived too, of weddings and class photos, of men and women smiling, with no idea what was coming to them. No idea at all. Some survived, but we can never know how much pain and turmoil they are in, because we have never experienced something so cruel and horrific in close quarters.
That is why I want to read The Tattooist of Auschwitz. I will never be able to imagine what truly happened, but I hope through reading this account – this story – I can see what heartbreak and what cost these people had. Reading, for me, has always been a way into history, to living in somebody else’s shoes for a few hours a day. Sometimes it is not a fantasy world, full of magic and possibilities; sometimes I have to read a book that is hard-hitting and gritty, something to make me appreciate that my life is heaven compared to the people that suffered so much. It will be a humbling experience, I am sure. And, I am so grateful for the Jewish Cultural Quarter for educating me more on the devastation of The Holocaust, something that some children and adults alike do not even know about.
If you are planning a visit to Amsterdam, I urge you to explore the Jewish Cultural Quarter. It is fascinating, and a piece of history we much always, always, remember.
Love, Faye xo